Keeping the ball in the air: interview with Philippe Darcis, Pipeline Technology Senior Director at Tenaris -

Keeping the ball in the air: interview with Philippe Darcis, Pipeline Technology Senior Director at Tenaris

28 Feb 2019

The speed of change is unprecedented. We used to have three or four years to develop a new product. Now, we simply don’t have that luxury any more

Driven by market volatility, advances in technology and the need to continuously optimise return on investment in changing contexts, our customers in the oil and gas industry want pipelines at the cutting edge of performance. And they want them fast. These trends in demand – high-tech solutions to new challenges, flexibility and speed – dramatically affect how we approach innovation at Tenaris.

The speed of change is unprecedented. Known as Tenaris since 2001, my company has operated globally in the steel industry and pipe business for over 100 years. We used to have three or four years to develop a new product. Now, we simply don’t have that luxury any more. So from the point of view of innovation generally, including both products and processes, we need to have the flexibility and expertise to innovate quickly and efficiently while remaining versatile. Looking at innovation in products specifically, here we also see fast and fundamental changes. Market demand for reliable solutions in harsher environments, as well as high-tech services, translates into an increase in technical complexity.

This all means that to stay at the leading edge of innovation, we need to have a clear vision of how the markets and technologies will evolve. In the oil and gas industry there is continuity in technical plans. Understanding past evolutions allows us to see more clearly into the future. Close relationships with our customers, and the ability to really listen to their needs and where their business is going, are also key. To give an example from the offshore industry, we are seeing how the volatility of the markets is driving more brownfield development, rather than greenfield development, along with optimisation of existing production infrastructure. Anticipating changing investment trends in turn helps us to shape our own strategic innovation plans.

Just as markets naturally diversify and adapt to new conditions, so does Tenaris. In addition to producing ever more sophisticated seamless and welded steel tubular products, we have launched a full range of accessories and customised services including pipe ends services, technical consulting and pipe management. Covering the entire product lifecycle, these services are designed to help our customers optimise their operations, improve safety and environmental impact, and enhance product reliability and efficiency. So our innovation doesn’t only relate to our products, but also to how we can better serve our customers.

This evolution, or expansion, in the company’s focus – from products to products and services – is an example of our broad approach to innovation at Tenaris. And essential to that broad approach is diversity. I said previously that we work hard to anticipate market and technological trends in order to get the right systems in place for quick and efficient innovation. Even more important, in my view, is to have the right people in place. My experience working in fields of innovation in the US, France, Mexico and Italy has convinced me that, whatever the country and whatever the industry, a company’s key assets are people with the skills and courage to innovate.

In Tenaris, we are lucky to have three sources of such expertise with a focus on innovation. Firstly, the core of our innovation takes place in our Technological Departments and in our R&D centres in Argentina, Italy, Japan and Mexico. Together, Tenaris R&D centres employ over 200 scientists and engineers from a diverse range of backgrounds, pushing boundaries in areas from advanced metallurgy and premium connectors to innovative processes. Secondly, we collaborate with universities on fundamental research topics with potential longer-term rewards.

Thirdly, we are supported by consulting engineering companies including RINA, with whom we have a strong relationship dating back more than 50 years. RINA brings not only cutting-edge equipment and facilities for characterisation, testing and development, but also different perspectives and specialist expertise that help to enhance our innovation activities. We have collaborated in areas including product development, structural integrity and process optimisation, with RINA’s support and flexibility complementing the work of our in-house R&D teams.

Strong and fast innovation is not possible without this diverse range of people. The personal relationships with my team at Tenaris, my co-workers, our customers, our suppliers and our partners such as RINA are really important for me and the most enjoyable aspect of my work. Leading innovation is like a juggler with multiple balls. What is important is not to control all the balls in the air all of the time or to be afraid to throw balls to others. What is important is to avoid any balls falling onto the ground. So the trick is to have skilled and trusted people working closely with you and to be able to pass them the ball.